Vagal nerve stimulation protects against burn-induced intestinal injury through activation of enteric glia cells

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2010 Dec;299(6):G1308-18. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00156.2010. Epub 2010 Aug 12.


The enteric nervous system may have an important role in modulating gastrointestinal barrier response to disease through activation of enteric glia cells. In vitro studies have shown that enteric glia activation improves intestinal epithelial barrier function by altering the expression of tight junction proteins. We hypothesized that severe injury would increase expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), a marker of enteric glial activation. We also sought to define the effects of vagal nerve stimulation on enteric glia activation and intestinal barrier function using a model of systemic injury and local gut mucosal involvement. Mice with 30% total body surface area steam burn were used as model of severe injury. Vagal nerve stimulation was performed to assess the role of parasympathetic signaling on enteric glia activation. In vivo intestinal permeability was measured to assess barrier function. Intestine was collected to investigate changes in histology; GFAP expression was assessed by quantitative PCR, by confocal microscopy, and in GFAP-luciferase transgenic mice. Stimulation of the vagus nerve prevented injury-induced intestinal barrier injury. Intestinal GFAP expression increased at early time points following burn and returned to baseline by 24 h after injury. Vagal nerve stimulation prior to injury increased GFAP expression to a greater degree than burn alone. Gastrointestinal bioluminescence was imaged in GFAP-luciferase transgenic animals following either severe burn or vagal stimulation and confirmed the increased expression of intestinal GFAP. Injection of S-nitrosoglutathione, a signaling molecule released by activated enteric glia cells, following burn exerts protective effects similar to vagal nerve stimulation. Intestinal expression of GFAP increases following severe burn injury. Stimulation of the vagus nerve increases enteric glia activation, which is associated with improved intestinal barrier function. The vagus nerve may mediate the signaling that occurs from the central nervous system to the enteric nervous system following gastrointestinal injury.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Burns*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • Intestines / cytology*
  • Luciferases / genetics
  • Luciferases / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Permeability
  • Skin / injuries*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation*


  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • glial fibrillary astrocytic protein, mouse
  • Luciferases